Diplomats weigh new sanctions against Iran

February 27, 2007|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LONDON -- U.S. and European diplomats prepared yesterday to consider possible new sanctions in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, even as Iran's top nuclear negotiator signaled again that Tehran would be willing to engage in "constructive and logical" negotiations with the U.S.

As representatives of the U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany met here in the wake of Iran's latest refusal to halt its uranium-enrichment efforts, there were signs that Iran's proposal to cap its enrichment at very low levels might be winning some support in Europe.

But strong opposition from the U.S. and Britain to anything less than a full suspension makes a deal at this point unlikely, according to analysts and diplomats familiar with the issue, and most were predicting a gradual ratcheting-up of U.N. sanctions and a continuing impasse.

"They have made a series of miscalculations of how united the international community is," a British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said as envoys met behind closed doors at the British Foreign Office. The meeting was triggered by Iran's failure to comply with a December Security Council resolution ordering Iran to suspend its enrichment program by Feb. 21.

"They're facing quite a bit of international pressure to get to the bottom of what they want to do, and why they want to do it. To get back to a negotiated solution to realize long-term [nuclear] activities, we want you to stop your enrichment activities now, and once that happens and is verified, we'll open up opportunities to have a renewed negotiation framework. But we can't have it the other way around," the diplomat said.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, sent out positive signals for negotiations, which Iran has frequently said it is open to so long as there are no preconditions requiring an end to its enrichment program before talking.

"If the United States presents a request for negotiations through the official channels and it appears that these negotiations are constructive and logical, we are ready to examine this request with a positive eye," Larijani told Iran's official news agency.

Analysts said Iran is hoping to win European support for an offer to cap enrichment at 4 percent, sufficient to manufacture nuclear fuel for power plants, which Iran insists is the goal of its nuclear program. The U.S. and other nations believe the technology could eventually be expanded to manufacture weapons-grade uranium, which requires enrichment levels of 85 percent.

Kim Murphy writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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